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Keith Haney 2004
The Lost Empire of Zeratti was the last campaign I created for my original game group. It was also the first time I realized how much the fantasy worlds I create are a reflection of my life experiences and influences. I collaborated to create this campaign with one of my long time friends John Campbell. John had moved to New York a few years prior to this project, but we still exchanged ideas and concepts. This was before the internet was as ubiquitous as it is today so we had very little interaction and we developed the world independent of each other. On a trip out to the east coast I stopped by to see John and collect his portion of development, which was vast! His writings and illustrations added a great deal to the work I had been doing.

Excitement about the campaign was high and several new players had joined the group. My well intentioned desire to include everyone who wanted to play actually made it difficult for any of the players to get good play time. Eight characters is too many for effective role-playing. Even so, we had many nights of meaningful and memorable role-playing.

The materials contained here were never intended for publication and were created purely for the enjoyment of my gaming group. I present them here in their original form in the hopes that it will inspire further development on your part or perhaps a piece of the world will appeal to your needs in your world.

The campaign is set in a jungle environment. I chose this because I wanted to really sink my teeth into adventuring in a new environment. The real problem with setting a mood and convincing the players that they are adventuring in a jungle stems from the fact that I have never set foot in a real jungle. I was going to have to rely on movies and photos to provide me with the environment descriptions I would use. The old axiom" write about what you know" was thrown out the door in this case.

The art style I created for this world was really a product of trying to create as many characters a quickly as possible. I would later refine some of the characters as their involvement with the players increased. You will note too that I have included drawings of the player characters from my group. I really think this helps the players visualize their character better, but I don't always make time for this in every campaign.

John L. Campbell 2006
I was recently asked to comment on the genesis of the “Lost Empire of the Zeratti” by my co-creator, Keith Haney.  Co-creator isn’t right, though.  It implies an equal amount of shared work.  To this day I consider myself a junior partner at best, and grateful for the opportunity to expand on some of his ideas.  The campaign belongs to him.

It was the mid-nineties, and I was living in New York.  Separated from my gaming group by two thousand miles of fly-over country, I was deep in the throes of role playing withdrawal and the creative jitters.  Along comes a phone call with an offer to contribute to the development of a campaign.  Looking back, I’m not at all certain it wasn’t a simple request for a single module and maybe a general critique of the overall idea.  I, however, took it as free license to create, and went completely off the deep end.

I immediately asked for a rough written overview of the campaign idea, thoughts on where the action should go, desired villains, heroes, geographic notes, limitations on weaponry, magic, religion, regional philosophy.  This request was met with a period of silence at the other end of the phone…did I hear a disgusted snort?  Can’t remember.  Finally, my “co-creator” (Read afterward as “DM,” and feel free to refer to me as “Scribbler-ready-to-burst-with-enthusiasm-like-a-seventeen-year-old-on-prom-night,”) gently suggested that the project was still in DEVELOPMENT (development, idiot) and that was the purpose of the call.  I’m quite sure I had some witty remark like, “Oh…”  He then offered to send a care package and see what I could make of it.

The glorious care package!  Were those angelic trumpets I was hearing?  Yes, yes, send it right away!  Make sure it’s thick, with lots of drawings!  I have always been a drooling fan and collector of Keith’s art…I still have game-night doodles of his safely preserved in sheet protectors and tucked away under the tightest of security.  I believe one was even on a cocktail napkin.  Oh yes, safely tucked away.  And insured.

And so I waited.  And waited.  One of the many common traits Keith and I share is terminal procrastination.  Alright, maybe it wasn’t that long of a wait.  Maybe I was just excited.  At last the promised package arrived.

Within that padded envelope was a stack of twenty-plus drawings, a couple of maps, and five or six pages of notes and ideas.  The campaign setting was an unexplored and tropical realm, recently (within 30 years or so) invaded by European-types who had established a small but prosperous colony.  Players would either be recently arrived from the Old World, or would be natives of some sort.  There was an outline of the ancient Zeratti culture (painted in very broad strokes), but most of this world was as much a mystery to us as it would be to the players.  I had struck creative gold, and with that I was off and running.

I feel it important to point out at this stage that our collaboration was limited to the occasional phone call, and no work was actually delivered until he made a trip to New York later that year.  More on that in a moment.

The setting was what first captured my attention.  A truly tropical environment…hot, humid, rainy, wild and untamed;  A small city like an island of civilization amid unfathomable dangers;  An endless jungle wherein absolutely anything might be found;  Bizarre, tribal cultures;  A forgotten empire slowly sinking beneath vines and brush;  Dangerous adversaries from both the New World and the Old;  Players who would find themselves not as conquerors, but as interlopers, “savages” from a corrupt and rotting realm up against cultures – humanoid and otherwise – far older and larger than their own.

At once I was seized by a storm of ideas, and for many months I existed under the all-consuming heat of Zeratti Fever.  Some dark and powerful force from deep within that steamy jungle possessed me, and demanded that I serve.  And so I did.  I made maps of geographic regions, created a second, smaller outpost city and fully populated it, developed a pretty decent villain, created adventures and modules, developed story plots, and designed a few monsters (I’m particularly proud of the “Green Rain” and even happier with the chilling response it received from the players when it was actually introduced.)  I created a forgotten Zeratti city, rocked long ago by earthquakes, devoured by the jungle and populated with legions of nasties.  The city wasn’t enough, however, and I designed – in obsessive detail – the culture of those who had once walked the now-overgrown streets, complete with new varieties of armor and weapons, wall paintings, statues, religious icons, temples to forgotten deities, bits of the language and relative translations, and remnants of the common man’s life, right down to the spoons and soup bowls.  All accompanied by crude (and hopefully destroyed) sketches and drawings.  Oh yes, let us not forget no less than six pieces of short fiction based upon the campaign.

Crazed?  Maybe.  Zeratti Fever has only a 25% survival rate.

Late in the year, Keith paid a visit.  He wasn’t in the door for more than five minutes before I disappeared into another room and emerged with a stack of files that would give a burro a hernia.  I’ll never forget the look of disbelief on his face, or his comment. 

“You’ve been busy.”

“Really?  I’ve been too busy to notice.”  (Zeratti Fever induces a severe case of distraction.)  We were up until the wee hours pouring over the work, and when he left, the trunk of his rental car sagged considerably.  I’ve often wondered if the airline charged him an over-the-weight-limit fee on his baggage.

Although I continued to contribute to the campaign in sporadic bursts afterwards, the bulk of my involvement culminated with that grand pile of work, and I was content.  The experience of long-range collaboration (again, without the instant wonders and possibilities of a more mature internet) was surreal.  We’re about to try it again on a limited basis, and already I feel the temperature rising as a new fever grips me.  My single regret on Zeratti was not getting the chance to participate in the actual gaming, to see it unfold. 

I think about that campaign often, though.  It remains one of my best inspiration moments.  I may not have been able to see the players’ reactions, didn’t get to hear the narratives or watch the dice roll, had to live vicariously through telephone recaps of gaming sessions, but in my daydreams I frequently walk among those impossibly high trees, sweltering under an emerald canopy and waiting for those first drops of Green Rain.  In the Lost Empire of Zeratti. 

 
 
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